“And you went up again this evening?” Banks prompted him.
“Yes; I only saw Mr. Frank, then,” Arthur replied, “and he was in such a pad, there was no talking to him. Anne can tell you why.”
Banks did not speak but he turned his eyes gravely to his daughter.
Anne lifted her head with the movement of one who decides to plunge and be done with it. “He’d been making love to me in the morning,” she said; “and I—played with him for Arthur’s sake. I thought it might help, and afterwards I showed him that I’d been letting him make a fool of himself for nothing, that’s all.”
The old man made no audible comment, but his head drooped a little forward and his body seemed to shrink a little within the sturdy solidity of his oak armchair. Anne, also, had betrayed him. Perhaps, he looked forward and saw the Home Farm without Anne—she could not stay after that—and realised that the verdict of his destiny was finally pronounced.
I turned my eyes away from him, and I think the others, too, feigned some preoccupation that left him a little space of solitude. We none of us spoke, and I knew by the sound of the quick intake of her breath that Mrs. Banks was on the verge of weeping.
I looked up, almost furtively, when I heard the crash of footsteps on the gravel outside, and I found that the other three with the same instinctive movement of suspense were turning towards Mrs. Banks.
She dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief and nodded to Anne, a nod that said plainly enough, “It’s them—the Jervaises.”
And then we were all startled by the sound of the rude and unnecessary violence of their knock at the front door. No doubt, Frank was still “in a pad.”
Yet no one moved until the old man at the head of the table looked up with a deep sigh, and said,—
“They’d better come in and be done with it, Nancy.”
His glance was slowly travelling round the room as if he were bidding those familiar things a reluctant farewell. All his life had been lived in that house.
The insulting attack upon the front door was made again with even greater violence while we still waited, united, as I believe, in one sympathetic resolve to shield the head of the house from any unnecessary distress. He alone was called upon to make sacrifice; it was our single duty and privilege to encircle and protect him. And if my own feelings were representative, we fairly bristled with resentment when this vulgar demand for admittance was repeated. These domineering, comfortable, respectability-loving Jervaises were the offenders; the sole cause of our present anxiety. We had a bitter grievance against them and they came swaggering and bullying, as if the threat to their silly prestige were the important thing.
“You’d better go, dear,” Mrs. Banks said with a nod to Anne. The little woman’s eyes were bright with the eagerness for battle, but she continued to talk automatically on absurdly immaterial subjects to relieve the strain of even those few seconds of waiting.